In his latest Apostolic Letter entitled Desiderio Desideravi or How I have Longed, Pope Francis writes beautifully about the deep meaning of the celebration of the liturgy. I highly recommend it. It can easily be found online. And it is not that long.
I was particularly touched by his reference to the liturgy as a place of encounter. This reminded me of a 1964 letter to the German Liturgical Congress written by one of my favorite liturgical theologians, Romano Guardini. In this letter Guardini writes about the liturgy as an epiphany or a manifestation of the divine. Good liturgy can indeed open a portal to the Divine, allow an epiphany to happen and occasion a profound encounter.
Pope Francis also makes it clear that this encounter is not a right a few of us earn, while others do not. Writing about the Last Supper, he offers the following: “No one had earned a place at that Supper. All had been invited. Or better said: all had been drawn there by the burning desire (Desiderio Desideravi) that Jesus had to eat that Passover with them.”
Today, some 2000 years after the Last Supper Jesus has the same burning desire to encounter each one of us in the Eucharist. None of us has earned a place at the Eucharistic Table. None of us has earned this encounter. All of us are invited to share this encounter.
But what is an encounter? The word has been used in English in diverse ways ranging from a simple meeting to a confrontation, even in battle. As referenced by Pope Francis, an encounter is never “just” a meeting. It is an intentional meeting. It is a meeting with purpose. It is a meeting with consequences. It is a meeting that sometimes even involves a struggle.
Great mystics, like Teresa of Avilla or St. John of the Cross experienced this encounter spiritually, mystically, and even almost physically. St. Teresa wrote about “being all on fire with the love of God” after one of her profound encounters with Christ in the Eucharist.
Our own Eucharistic encounters may not be as dramatic and life-altering as those of the great mystics, nevertheless they are encounters with consequences. One of the most important consequences of an encounter with Christ is that such an encounter binds us all together and compels us to encounter Christ in one another.
Pope Francis holds that our sacramental encounters are a powerful antidote to the ills and evils in our society where confrontation is celebrated, and divisions are promoted. These sacramental encounters are the foundation for a much-needed Culture of Encounter promoted by Pope Francis which advances right relationships among people.
Today is a very special day at The Basilica. Not only do we celebrate our Basilica community, we are also very pleased to officially welcome Fr. Daniel Griffith as our new pastor. Among the many responsibilities a pastor has, one of his primary roles by virtue of his ordination is to preside at the liturgy, our primary place of encounter. Reminiscent of St. Teresa’s words, Pope Francis in Desiderio Desideravi wrote that for a priest “to preside at Eucharist is to be plunged into the furnace of God’s love.” As Fr. Griffith begins his ministry at The Basilica, we pray that he indeed may be plunged into the furnace of God’s love so he may in turn set all of us “on fire with the Love of God.”
Ad Multos Annos!